Watching the sheer number of “A” list celebrities appearing on this year’s Golden Globe Awards could give you a crick in the neck. Or, if you thought about it, could be a pain in the neck. But for totally different reasons.
First, the crick: It became a bit dizzying keeping track as celebrities rushed, walked, ambled and stumbled their way across the stage of the Beverly Hilton Hotel this past Sunday. Johnny Depp, Brad and Angie, George Clooney, Steven Spielberg, Meryl (Streep) and Glenn (Close), both present and competing for awards just like they did in the eighties, Martin Scorsese and Seth Rogen (no, there isn’t a reason to pair them except that I thought it would be fun and the one and only time you ever see them mentioned together), Madonna (who is no longer part of a pair but is now a director), Jane Fonda and Aaron Sorkin (the latter two, who will be working together on his upcoming HBO series “The Newsroom,” where she plays a sort of female Ted Turner) and so on and so forth.
An impressive turnout for any awards show, much less one that is probably best known for honoring Pia Zadora (who?) as its 1981 Star of the Year for her memorable performance in “Butterfly,” a film which had not yet been released at the time the award was given but would become memorable, yet not for exactly the reasons that kind of award would indicate.
As the story goes, Pia’s multimillionaire (the 1981 version of a 2012 billionaire) husband at the time, Meshulam Riklis, wooed the Hollywood Foreign Press with free trips to his Riveria Hotel in Las Vegas and other perks and parties and that the award to his much younger wife was payback time. Hey, whatever works, is fair game. I mean, that’s show biz, right?
Well, exactly. The biz fosters people doing all sorts of odd things. A studio chief once told me that the esteemed and classy screenwriter Eleanor Perry desperately wanted a writing assignment in the seventies after she divorced her filmmaker husband Frank Perry and actually begged (his words) him to give her the assignment to write what would eventually become another Zadora vehicle, the adaptation of the campy pump novel, “Lonely Lady,” about a young pretty female writer’s rise through the dregs of Hollywood to screenwriting stardom. But unlike the heroine in the book, Ms. Perry never did get the assignment. Knowing Ms. Perry’s intellect and dedication to meaningful characterizations, said studio chief vehemently refused the respected writer’s plea for the job, telling her, “Oh, Eleanor, you know that I can’t. You’ll want to put all of that integrity into it.” To which Ms. Perry, replied: “No, there will be absolutely no integrity, I promise!”
The point being, to quote someone’s grandmother, “If you want to play with pigs, you have to roll around in the mud.”
Not that everyone in Hollywood is a pig. Far from it. I would say that the majority of people are smart, fairly okay, and, actually, pretty cool. But all of us, from time to time, do roll around in the mud with the rest of the livestock, as most living things must do. Our mud is often prettier looking than pig slop, but mud it is, nevertheless.
Crude? Snide? Bitter? Cynical? Sadly dismaying? Not really. Just truthful. (And here’s where the neck pain comes in). All of the aforementioned talent are at the top of their game – they can pretty much name their price and their property – and yet, they are choosing to appear live and in person and on television to pick up an award given by a very, very small organization of entertainment reviewers, many of whom work only part-time for their publications and who, as any of us who have worked in entertainment publicity know, can easily be persuaded to nominate a star from any decently reviewed high profile movie that comes out that year. In other words, all is not kosher in Denmark.
Of course, this doesn’t make the stars that participate in this shell game any less talented. In fact, it might make them more so. Because aside from their creativity, they have recognized and mastered the art of both show and biz. Show being the creative art – the acting, writing, producing, singing dancing, etc. Biz being the, well, job creator part – or self creation, as it goes out here. If at some point you’re not willing to “dig in” – which could likely involve some mud rolling, or persuade lots of people to get dirty with or for you – you will likely not be in the game. (And this is where the pain the neck continues). For stars, digging in means not only a smart agent, but “acting” nice to people if they won’t warrant it, and these days, doing publicity and marketing for your movies and
ass hand kissing for your movies in the unlikeliest of places. No one sits it out anymore. Even Harrison Ford shows up at the Globes. Woody Allen does press tours. In fact, it’s hard to even think of a star under 30 that doesn’t do some sort of media because, well, given the competitive marketplace and our 24/7 global existence, that is just not an option these days. And press doesn’t mean the New Yorker and Vanity Fair. It means strange awards banquets, Access Hollywood, ill-gotten lobbied for or even bought spots at film festivals in and out of competition, maybe even an over the top chat show in England or Australia where you have to get dunked in water or have confetti thrown in your face. Or an American low-budget cable access show… in pajamas.
As for Ricky Gervais, (uh, yes, him too) he’s not the above-it-all Globes master of ceremonies you thought he was. How could he be? For the last three years he has sort of lent a patina of hipness to the proceedings, turning the corniness of the event on its ear and actually giving the attendees a sense of being “in on the joke” because, well, if Gervais is doing it, it’s not really mud-rolling and self-promotion, it’s sort of court jesterish. And it means young, hip people are watching. And it’ll be sort of fun because liquor is served and audiences are hoping more than one person will be tipsy and say something unrehearsed in the sound byte, pre-planned, post-digested world we live in.
Nice try. Sort of. And not all wrong. Except for the fact that Ricky’s by no means above it all. How could he be when he’s the main fixture of the program? Because if indeed Ricky Gervais thinks the awards are a joke and has as much disdain for the validity of the Hollywood Foreign Press and the system of its award giving as we think, WHY IS HE HOSTING? It can’t be the money unless he’s a spendaholic (and that tuxedo would suggest he isn’t). Perhaps he’s having a very long post-modern moment where you embrace that which you find distasteful in an attempt at the kind of ultimate irony comics like Andy Kaufman were famous for. Well, that would account for doing it for one year. But for three in a row? Not a chance. Once is irony. Twice is habit. Three times – definitely mud rolling. He’s mixing it up. Staying relevant. Plying his craft. A famous actor once told me about choosing a role: “It’s not that hard. You look at what’s offered and take the best one.” Best, of course, doesn’t always mean quality. Sometimes it’s the best paying. Sometimes it’s the best exposure. Or the best strategy at the time for your career. Or the best part, meaning a smaller but juicer role in a smaller or bigger vehicle. (Think Jack Nicholson in the first “Batman” and add $10 million dollars).
Anyone who has had a career or wants a career must know that if you are or are to be among the lucky 1% that get to work in your chosen field, every day is not a romp in the hay. Some days, more than one might think, involve a toss in the dirt, a poke in the knickers, a roll in the mud. And you must be willing to get dirty. Sully yourself. Play with the little people. Or get lots of help doing it. Even if you are creating your own job.
It’s a badge of honor. It keeps you human. What’s inhuman is pretending that you’re not doing it. That somehow, you’re above or beyond it all (Hi Ricky). That’s worse than mud rolling. It’s lying. And it sets a bad example for everyone coming after you, nipping at your heels. Because it means you’ve gone from mere pig to full swine.